The Weekly Round-Up #391 With Aliens: Dead Orbit #2, Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #7, Paklis #1, Saga #43 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Aliens: Dead Orbit #2 – James Stokoe is such a natural to be playing around in the Aliens universe.  In the flashbacks that take up most of the issue, the crew of a company space station continues to try to figure out what happened to a cobbled together ship that appeared in their space, with three badly injured passengers.  Over the course of the issue, we discover that at least two of the crew had been impregnated by aliens, and things start to take a familiar course.  In the framing sequences, one crewman continues to make his way through the disintegrating station.  Stokoe’s art is incredible, as would be expected, but his writing is also very impressive and propulsive here.

Quick Takes:

Black Road #9&10 – Thanks to Diamond, I ended up finally getting issue #9 on the same day as the conclusion of this thoughtful and excellent northern European story by Brian Wood and Garry Brown.  Wood explores the long and bloody years during with the Church worked to convert the Norssk.  Magnus the Black finishes his confrontation with the Christians at their fort, and then returns along the Black Road looking for Julia, the girl who betrayed him.  There are some pretty pointed comments about the difference between a true faith and religion, as Wood gives Magnus a different understanding of the future than how his people see it.  I liked this book a lot, and was happy to see Wood return to the territory he covered in his excellent Northlanders series.

Black Science #30 – Things are getting really crazy in this series, as at least three different groups from other dimensions arrive on Earth looking to take it over or destroy it, and Grant and his brother look like the only people who have any hope of fixing things (or at least think they can).  Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera have been building to this for a long time now, and the pay-off is starting to feel great.  Unfortunately, this book is going on a bit of a hiatus, but it’s all good.

Captain America: Sam Wilson #22 – Nick Spencer’s best recent Marvel work has been his Sam Wilson writing, as he seems to have a lot more affinity to the character than he does Steve Rogers.  This issue shows us what Sam’s been up to since he gave up the shield last issue, through to the establishment of Hydra’s control of the US.  We learn how he ended up working to smuggle people out of the US, and as usual, this issue shows a deeper understanding of how this storyline reflects the American zeitgeist, as people in the heartland seem perfectly happy to be under Hydra’s rule.  It’s a good, solid read that helps fill in some of the gaps in the larger event.

Doctor Aphra #7 – As the Screaming Citadel crossover continues, Kieron Gillen does not hold back in showing us just how awful a person Aphra really is, and he also takes more than a few shots at Princess Leia.  I’m not loving this arc, mostly because I don’t like the use of magical gothy villains in the Star Wars universe (more Darth Maul than Vader), but the character work here is superb.

Doctor Strange #21 – I’d dropped this title when Marvel got rid of its digital codes, and while I’d always enjoyed it, I wasn’t all that upset with losing it.  Then I heard that Niko Henrichon, the artist from BKV’s graphic novel The Pride of Baghdad would be taking over the art, and I knew this was going back on my pullfile list.  Henrichon is an incredible artist, and so this is the prettiest Secret Empire tie-in there is.  Strange is stuck inside Manhattan, and has to use his newly-limited magic to try to find a way to save the day.  The problem is that Spider-Woman, Ben Urich, and Daredevil are also trying to fix things, and they may end up working at cross-purposes to his efforts.  I like the fact that new writer Dennis Hopeless has brought Jessica and Ben into things, because I already miss his recently cancelled Spider-Woman book, but really, I’m here for the art.

Kill or Be Killed #9 – Once again, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips deliver an incredibly tense issue.  Dylan goes to meet his drug dealer, not knowing that the Russian mafia has tracked him down, and are looking for revenge.  This issue is full of suspense, but also takes the time to dig even further into Dylan’s psyche, as things get more and more out of control in his life.  Very good stuff.

Moon Knight #14 – Jeff Lemire and Greg Smallwood’s run comes to a very satisfying conclusion here, as Marc Spector finally confronts Khonshu, and through that, his own mental illness.  This has been a very intelligently-written series, that I think will resonate with a number of readers.  Smallwood’s art is understated yet gorgeous, and Lemire’s writing has been very sensitive and thought-provoking.  I’m glad this title lasted long enough to tell this story, and feel like Marvel needs to let this character rest for a while now, instead of diving into a new relaunch.  Between Lemire’s and Warren Ellis’s work on MK, I’m not sure there’s anything left to say at the moment.

Occupy Avengers #7 – I still struggle with understanding just what makes this book live up to its title, as we get our third straight issue of Hawkeye and company finding themselves in the middle of a battle between two groups of Skrulls in Idaho.  Perhaps David Walker is working in some sympathy for refugees, but I expected this book to be more woke than it is.  Next month ties in to Secret Empire, and I think that the title is cancelled.  There was potential here, but it’s late 2010s Marvel, where all potential is to be wasted.

Paklis #1 – Dustin Weaver is an interesting comics creator.  I know him best for his SHIELD work with Jonathan Hickman (that never concluded), and was really impressed by his Infinity Gauntlet miniseries during Secret Wars.  Paklis is a new anthology series done by him almost exclusively.  The first issue is a nice chunk of comics (at a $6 price point), and contains a complete story (a bit of an exploration of themes from Kafka’s Metamorphosis), and the first chapter of two science fiction serials.  There is a lot of promise here, as Weaver shows a lot of his range as an artist and writer, and definitely grabs my attention.  Although quite different from that project, I feel like Paklis is going to help fill the void left by the cancellation of Island.

Saga #43 – Saga returns from hiatus, and with a twenty-five cent cover price!  This issue brings new readers up to speed on the series, as the family deals with the aftermath of the last arc, which has sent Alana to a planet known for performing abortions.  This issue touches on transgendered identity, the holiness of Wreath miscarriages, and the dangers of an improperly-dug septic trench.  As always, it’s kind of delightful and a little sad all at once.

Secret Empire #3 – This event is chugging along perfectly well.  Nick Spencer has a lot of balls in the air now, as check in on various resistance pockets, including Maria Hill, while Hydra’s efforts to gather the cosmic cube fragments keep hitting some snags.  There are a lot of storylines to check in on already, and so this issue lacks any of the big set-pieces that have made it exciting so far, but does move along on its own momentum.  I don’t know if that will continue unless the next issue has a bigger scene or two.  I was very happy to see Spencer writing Boomerang again (after his excellent Superior Foes of Spider-Man series), even if it was just for a few pages.

Sex Criminals #19 – I don’t know how, after almost twenty issues of this weird and wonderful comic, that Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky keep coming up with new ways to make long conversations visually exciting and novel.  This is another very strong issue of this book that advances a number of plotlines, and maybe shows the beginning of the end for Suzie and Jon.  I love this book.

Southern Cross #12 – At the end of the second story arc, a lot is revealed, such as the truth of what the alien artifacts are for, and the location of the Southern Cross, which has been missing since the first arc ended.  What started as a science fiction mystery has slowly morphed into a horror story, and has really picked up in momentum.  Andy Belanger’s art is really impressive here, and I think this is the best book that Becky Cloonan has written.

Teen Titans Special: The Lazarus Contract #1 – Priest and his colleagues finish up the Lazarus Contract storyline with some overly confusing time travel stuff, and a slightly off rendition of Damian Wayne.  I also felt like the uniqueness of the Speed Force was kind of minimized here.  Aside from all of this, I think that this crossover was mostly successful, in that it has me interested in reading more Teen Titans (perhaps), and has set up a new status quo for Deathstroke moving forward.  Paul Pelletier, the artist for this one-off, seems to always get stuck drawing tons of characters, most of whom, such as Donna Troy or Arsenal, have absolutely nothing to do for an entire issue except hang out in the background.  He does it well, but it has to be frustrating.  I don’t normally talk about lettering in the comics I read, because good lettering is supposed to be pretty much invisible.  I found that the work here, by Willie Schubert, reminded me of independent books, but not in a good way.

Comics I Would Have Bought if Comics Weren’t So Expensive:

Cable #1

Generation X #2

Joe Golem Occult Detective Outer Dark #1

Lobster Johnson Pirates Ghost #3

Micronauts Wrath of Karza #2

Namwolf #2

Old Man Logan #24

Thanos #7

Uber Invasion #6

Visitor How and Why He Stayed #4

Bargain Comics:

Death of X #4 – Well, that all ended differently than I’d imagined.  The X-books had been floundering for a while when the powers that be decided they needed to get into a fight with the Inhumans, and I guess for that to happen, Cyclops needed to be taken off the board.  This should have been better than it was.

U.S.Avengers #1-5 – I’m going to admit to being pretty disappointed in Al Ewings’s take on the AIM branch of the Avengers titles in this relaunch.  He’s gotten rid of most of my favourite characters from his New Avengers run, rebranded Bobby DaCosta as Citizen V and relegated him to a desk job, and generally decompressed his story a little too much for my liking.  The highpoint of these issue is the fifth one, which has Steve Rogers probing Bobby to figure out how much AIM, which is now a part of SHIELD, will work against his Secret Empire interests.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Captain Canuck: Unholy War – I picked this up at a sale, having thought it was a part of the more recent Captain Canuck relaunch by Chapterhouse, who publishes this book.  Instead, it’s a collection of a four-issue miniseries originally published in 2004 at Comely Comix.  It tells the story of a police officer who has taken on the guise of Captain Canuck, whose comics he read as a child, to stop a biker gang that is running guns and drugs along the west coast.  The comics, by brothers Riel and Drue Langlois, are pretty earnest and respectful of the original Canuck material, but also required a lot more editing and story building.  I’m going to admit that I find Chapterhouse’s Canuck stuff pretty confusing – there are too many series and trades out there, some new, some archival, and I have no idea where to start.

Dynamo 5 Vol. 2: Moments of Truth – Jay Faerber continues to develop his characters and their relationships with one another in this second volume.  I like the way Dynamo 5 incorporates elements and characters from Noble Causes, and still wish I’d read these books when they first came out.

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